Are you looking for some fun, frugal garden play activities for your kids or preschoolers in nursery? If you’re anything like me, you can never have enough ideas to fill those lovely long summer days (or winter days!) Loose parts play is fab for entertaining little ones in the garden.
Providing Loose Parts for your little ones will not only keep them entertained and happy for longer. It also doesn’t cost very much at all.
If that wasn’t enough to make you love it; did you know that playing with loose parts is also one of the best ways for little kids to learn and develop?
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What is Loose Parts Play?
Loose parts play is simply about providing bits and pieces that can be played with and used in a number of different ways.
You, as the adult, provide the resources, and then it is the child’s choice to use them as they wish.
Resources can include things like: curtain rings, bottle tops, kitchen roll tubes, buttons, wooden pegs, pine cones, offcuts of wood, off cuts of pipes, pebbles, shells, and old tires. There are so many more things too. Just make sure that they are safe for the age of child you are offering them to.
It is an open-ended, child-led, type of play.
Brilliant for children’s development, loose parts play is popular in many schools, nurseries, childminding settings and childcare facilities across the UK.
The term was originally coined by Simon Nicholson. If you’re interested in learning more about the theory, check out this Loose Parts Play Booklet by Play Scotland.
Why is Loose Parts Play Important for Little Kids Development?
Loose parts play is so important for a child’s development as it provides opportunities for them to be creative, use their imaginations, and think outside the box.
They can look for solutions to problems, consider different ways of doing things, and be free to express themselves in their play.
It helps grow confidence and independence too, and it encourages problem solving and working together with others.
Children learn best through play, especially young children. Loose parts play is one of the best forms of play they can do, and if you can combine that with some fresh air and exercise in the garden, it’s even better!
Is Loose Parts Play Expensive?
No, loose part’s play doesn’t have to be expensive at all. There are so many free resources that you can use.
Many of the items that are used for loose parts play are bits and pieces that you already have around your home like: wooden spoons, bowls, ladles, pegs, kitchen roll tubes, jar lids, and boxes.
Some loose parts items can be easily sourced for free like: off-cuts of wood, old tires, old pipe off-cuts, pine cones, pebbles, and curtain rings.
Loose parts can also be bought at low cost from second hand shops. We have found a wooden mug stand to hang curtain rings on, a mixture of buttons, cotton reels, and some lovely baskets to store the loose parts in for easy access.
Why do Loose Parts Play in the Garden?
Loose parts play in the garden or anywhere in nature just makes it better, in my opinion.
It mixes the benefits of loose parts play, with the benefits of the great outdoors: fresh air, space and nature.
It also allows for the use of much bigger loose parts and therefore projects on a much grander scale for the children.
Messier play is also less of a worry outdoors.
Think mud kitchens and den-building to get started!
Seasonal Ideas for Loose Parts Play in the Garden
Different seasons provide different opportunities and free materials.
Embracing the seasons really helps your child to learn through play and exploration and increases their understanding of nature and the world around them.
Summer Loose Parts Garden Play
In the Summer, I like to provide lots of water-based activities for my kids in the garden.
We have a water table, with different loose parts in it, such as ladles, cups, bowls, measuring spoons, balls, plastic blocks and rubber ducks. Sometimes there are dolls and sponges and towels for a bathing area.
The sprinkler is another favourite and the kids have been known to try to collect water from it in cups or bowls, and make shields to protect themselves as they try to reach the centre without getting wet! They have also made an obstacle course through the sprinkler!
The mud kitchen always gets a lot of use in summer and is great for loose parts garden play. Cupcake trays, saucepans, spoons, water, mud, flowers, grass, sticks, stones, and shells are all great things to provide in your mud kitchen.
Autumn provides so many great opportunities for loose parts play in your garden.
Fallen leaves are great fun to kick up, make into piles, or collect for pictures, or mud kitchen baking! There are so many lovely colours and shapes of leaves.
Mud, sticks, stones, pine cones, acorns and autumn flowers are all great resources at this time of the year.
In the Winter
In Winter, you can still enjoy lots of time outside in your garden with loose parts play.
Snow and ice are some of the best resources at this time of year. Building a snowman is essentially a loose parts activity.
You can also take out buckets and spades and make snow castles, using loose parts to decorate them. Try to build an igloo, or snow wall, and experiment with sliding small objects across some ice, or finding different things to break the ice up with.
Spring Loose Parts Garden Play
In Spring, you have some lovely flowers, seeds, and acorns as free resources.
Spring is also the time of year that people have a clear outs, so if you’re looking for more loose parts, this might be the best time to find them.
The Best 5 Resources for your Loose Parts Garden Play
Since this is an article about frugal loose parts play, all the examples I have provided so far are for items you can get for free or at a very small cost. However, some of them can be enhanced by adding a few more costly items which I have included below.
You can of course, enjoy loose parts garden play without buying any of these, but I have found that having one or two of these does add to the experience.
1. A Mud Kitchen is great for Loose Parts Garden Play
The Mud kitchen is my daughters favourite thing to use with all her loose parts.
There are a variety of different mud kitchens available if you choose to buy one. Some are quite fancy and the price reflects that, others are more rustic and less expensive.
I feel this Mud kitchen, from Amazon, is the best. It does everything you want it to do. There is an oven, prep space, and wash basin with running water. My kids love the running water element of their mud kitchen.
2. Sand Pit
Burying Loose parts or using them to decorate sand castles is great, creative fun. Playing with the sand and pouring it in and out of different loose parts is a great STEM activity. You could even use some loose parts to create measuring scales.
This sandpit, from Amazon, is great because it has a cover so you can avoid neighbourhood cats relieving themselves in your kids play area! It’s got plenty of space for more than one kid to get involved in the fun!
3. Plastic Animals and figures
Small world play is great for kids imaginations and these Rainbow Peg Dolls, from Amazon, will really enhance their play. They can use them as inspiration with the loose parts, creating houses, cars, playgrounds and all sorts for them.
4. Outdoor Storage
This is just a practical point to save your porch or kitchen from some of the mess! It will depend on the size of the loose parts you have as to how much storage you want. This is definitely something worth considering though.
Having designated areas to tidy up loose parts at the end of the day will help you and your little ones keep your garden neat and tidy.
5. Good Quality Waterproofs and Wellie Boots
This is another practical one, but it is super important if you want your little one to enjoy loose parts play in the garden all year round.
We love our all-in-one suits. They keep my little ones dry when they do water play and warm in the winter.
They also reduce the amount of laundry I have to do, as their clothes underneath stay clean and dry, despite the messy play.
Not all waterproof suits are created equal though!
We have suffered our fair share of leaky suits, and it is not pleasant!
Trespass is good quality and this suit, from Amazon, comes in lots of different colours, perfect for your child’s individual taste.
10 Free Resources for Loose Parts Play Outdoors
- Old Tires
- Off-cuts or old pieces of wood
- Old Pallets
- Old Crates
- Mud + Water
- Off-cuts of Pipe
- Old Rope
- Old piece of Tarpaulin
- Things you find on the beach: Stones, pebbles, shells, dried seaweed, driftwood.
- Things you find in the forest: pine cones, acorns, sticks, fallen leaves.
Frugal Loose Parts Garden Play
I hope that you are coming away from this with loads of exciting ideas for loose parts garden play for your kids this summer.
It really does keep them entertained so much longer than traditional activities and it’s better for their development too.
Leave a comment if there you think I’ve missed anything off the list!